BEIRUT: Bilateral agreements with Cyprus must be drawn up quickly so that the drilling of exploratory wells near the Cypriot-Lebanese maritime border can begin, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Thursday, expressing hope that the countries can collaborate in the oil and gas sector.
“In 2020, there could be the drilling of an exploratory well near the Cypriot-Lebanese maritime border ... which means we should speed up the bilateral agreements,” Bassil said at a news conference, following a meeting he and Energy Minister Nada Boustani held with their Cypriot counterparts, Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides and Energy Minister Georgios Lakkotrypis.
Last week, Lebanon launched the second round of its oil and gas exploration, for maritime blocks 1, 2, 5, 8 and 10. Blocks 5 and 8 border Cyprus’ territorial waters, and a source close to the Lebanese Petroleum Administration previously told The Daily Star that Block 5 could potentially contain “cross-border deposits."
A statement from the Energy Ministry reported after the meeting Thursday that the Lebanese and Cypriot sides had agreed to form a team to work on preparing an agreement for the development and production of shared maritime cross-border hydrocarbon deposits.
This team would release an initial report in June, and the agreement would “hopefully” be signed by the two countries in September, the statement said.
The countries additionally agreed to cooperate on the related technical and geological matters and to share expertise on their respective oil and gas legislation.
Lakkotrypis, the Cypriot energy minister, said the two countries also agreed to search for markets for the gas that could potentially be extracted, a Lebanese Foreign Ministry statement reported. After a market is found, the countries will look to prepare an agreement for cross-border infrastructure projects to transport and export natural gas.
Lebanon, Cyprus and Greece will also prepare other agreements on tourism, economic trade and cultural cooperation by a May 7 deadline, it was revealed Wednesday after a meeting between the three countries’ foreign ministers. A summit joining the Lebanese, Cypriot and Greek presidents will be held in Cyprus in June to sign these trilateral agreements.
The Cypriot foreign minister, who spoke after Bassil at the conference Thursday, said his country “will not participate in any project that violates Lebanon’s rights.”
Cyprus supports Lebanon’s prosperity, Christodoulides said, emphasizing that regional security was dependent on a “strong and secure Lebanon.”
Regarding the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel, Lakkotrypis said his country was ready to mediate to find a solution.
Lebanon’s blocks 8 and 10 are situated along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel. Around 856 square kilometers of disputed water lies in Block 8 - the biggest disputed area of any block. Parts of Block 9 also run through what Israel claims is its EEZ. However, Lebanon says that the maritime map it submitted to the United Nations is in line with a set of armistice agreements signed in 1949 following the Arab-Israeli War.